Finnish company encourages fun science education for kids

Kide Science creates science education for children that is literally child’s play. The fun, hands-on pedagogical model is based on substantial research into how kids learn best.

Come with me. Hoseli the robot needs help. He’s thirsty. We can help him find the stuff that quenches his thirst. I’ve heard it’s something that isn’t soluble in water.

Children aged three to ten in kindergartens and schools in Europe, Asia, Australia, Africa and Latin America have joined the adventures of Hoseli in a digital fantasy world called Supraland where the small robot lives. They get to try and test things for themselves, like making fake snow or building rockets with vinegar and bicarbonate of soda.

The fun world created by Kide Science combines the main elements that studies have found to enhance scientific thinking: stories, imagination, empathy, visual and tactile learning, cooperation, everyday observations and creative problem-solving. These are also components of vital future skills.

We spoke with the company’s founders, Jenni Vartiainen, Aino Kuronen and Sari Hurme-Mehtälä. Kide Science was born from research Vartiainen did at the University of Helsinki. “International research had shown that children as young as three years benefit from learning scientific thinking, but this finding hadn’t really been put into practice,” says Vartiainen. She took her research to an empirical level by establishing science clubs for young children.

“Some of the parents were surprised at how excited their children got about it all,” Vartiainen says. There was clearly a demand that had not been satisfied. “I was asked to continue running the science clubs.” So began the story of Kide Science.

Children and parents are excited, and so are investors. Between the launch in 2017 and the fourth quarter of 2020, Kide Science raised a combined 2.4 million euros for developing its business. Its education materials are currently available in English, Chinese and Finnish.

Everyone can be a scientist

Three women in lab coats sit at a table with educational toys on it.

“It all takes place in the real world,” says Aino Kuronen. “Kids aren’t just staring at screens.” Photo: Samuli Skantsi

Boosting the curiosity and sense of wonder that children already have is the key. “Kids observe and interpret the world around them from the moment they are born,” the second developer of Kide Science, Aino Kuronen says. “They practice everything in life through play.”

“It’s important not to limit what is there already,” Vartiainen adds. Giving children the space and tools to play the role of a scientist in their own individual ways motivates learning. And when positive emotions pop up, the hunger for learning increases even more.

Digital devices and applications provide the framework for unlimited thinking and playing, but the gist of Kide Science education is in tactile activities.

“It all takes place in the real world,” Kuronen says. “Kids aren’t just staring at screens.” Everyday household items such as salt, bicarbonate, sweets, empty toilet rolls, spoons and peas are among the things that the experiments use.

It’s also about dismantling the misunderstandings around science. “There are a bunch of myths,” says Kuronen. “These include the ideas that you need to be highly intelligent or have a calm temperament to be a scientist.”

Space for flexibility and creative collaboration

A digital environment provides flexibility. “Materials are accessible anytime, anywhere,” says the third of the Kide Science developers, Sari Hurme-Mehtälä. “The platform also makes it easy for teachers to learn the pedagogical model. And we are able to scale the contents.”

And here comes an important point: you don’t have to be a science teacher to begin with. The most important role for adults is facilitating and supporting the children’s own thinking. Vartiainen says the most inspiring moment comes when children start helping each other and suggesting ideas for solving the problems.

With growing demand for distance learning, Kide Science are now researching the best ways to build a pedagogical model for families.

How do the developers of Kide Science see the possibilities of digital tools? “Simulating reality with virtual reality glasses is on the increase, and so is visualising things,” says Kuronen. “For instance you could shrink yourself to fit into a water molecule,” suggests Vartiainen. Now that would be cool, wouldn’t it?

By Minna Takkunen, ThisisFINLAND Magazine 2021